Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Rod Tops the Bill at Hard Rock Calling 2011

After a massive Glastonbury 2011 ticket-obtaining fail, I was partially consoled by the prospect of attending Hard Rock Calling in London’s very own Hyde Park. It’s like a festival, yeah, but you can go home and have a shower afterwards, not just daub yourself with wet wipes. Result. Having missed out on tickets for Saturday headliners Bon Jovi, I was still very much looking forward to catching Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers on Friday, and even more excited about Stevie Nicks and Rod Stewart on Sunday (this is betraying my age).

Arriving on Friday in a rainy fug, it was clear that Hyde Park-goers could expect to share Glastonbury’s damp and muddy weather conditions. Uh oh. Things had taken a turn for the worse; we had forgotten our waterproofs.

Cheered marginally by the gratis cider (thank you, Press Area), it was with bedraggled trepidation that we trudged towards the main stage in a bid to be rejuvenated by cheeky anthemists Kaiser Chiefs. This better be good, I thought, as I wiped precipitation mixed with eye makeup from my face. It turned out I needn’t have worried.

Ricky Wilson & Co, sensing the crowd wanted a pick-me-up, took us all back to those Indie halcyon days of 2005 with their sing along belter Every Day I Love You Less And Less. Energetic on stage as ever, the Kaisers brought a much-needed smile to the drenched audience with their madcap capers.

Following this classic with a song from their new album, The Future is Medieval, could have been a risky move but luckily Little Shocks is a great tune. With its eerie ‘80s keyboard riffs, it sounds like the product of a more sinister and rockier Human League.

The highlights of the Kaiser Chiefs set were, perhaps predictably, the ones that we all know and love. Ruby, Never Miss A Beat, I Predict A Riot and the well -judged finale Oh My God brought the house down and got everybody shouting out the lyrics with gusto.

After a brief cider and bog break, it was with renewed vigour that we returned to the main stage for The Killers. Front man Brandon Flowers summed up the whole ethos of the night with well-known opener Glamourous Indie Rock & Roll, although I confess to feeling less than glamourous myself, standing there shivering in my wet Converse. Flowers was clearly marveling at the British audacity of withstanding treacherous weather conditions in the name of Rock. ‘What are you doing here? Didn’t you get tickets for Wimbledon?’ He quipped.

The Killers kept spirits high with a very hit-heavy set that included Somebody Told Me, Smile Like You Mean It, Losing Touch, Human, A Dustland Fairytale and Mr Brightside, accompanied intermittently by fireworks coming out of the sides of the stage. There was even a shower of confetti into the audience during an up-tempo All These Things That I’ve Done.

No fan could have been disappointed with such a comprehensive showcase of the band’s talents, which was supplemented by a surprise rendition of Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The generous encore sealed the deal, with Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine and When You Were Young rounding off a high-octane set that managed to go un-dampened by the horizontal rain.

Arriving at Hyde Park on Sunday it was SPF20 not waterproofs we needed. Phew! What a Scorcher! as the red-tops would have it.

Chilling in the press area with a pear cider while listening to Barenaked Ladies and Mike & The Mechanics on the Pepsi Max stage proved just the ticket for steeling myself for the main event, namely: Stevie Nicks followed by Rod ‘The God’ Stewart on the main stage.

As a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, I was delighted to hear Stevie in fine voice singing Rhiannon and Dreams. She also looked amazing, her lustrous golden hair shining in the unusual sunlight.

As Stevie’s set drew to a close with the melodic Landslide I looked around and saw that, despite some unfortunate cases of sunburn, the crowd was on top form and eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘The Tartan Crooner’, as my friend Bob calls him.

Rod opened his two hour set with soul stormer Love Train from the O’Jays and Sam Cooke’s Havin’ A Party, songs which were as glitzy as the first of his many luxurious jackets that evening.

Rich vocals on The First Cut Is the Deepest proved that Rod has definitely still got it. This being one of my absolute favourite songs, I don’t mind telling you, I was fit to swoon.

Next, Rod upped the tempo with Baby Jane, a number that couldn’t fail to get everyone singing along. The first guest appearance of the evening saw Stevie Nicks returning to the stage for a duet on Young Turks. The performance was a perfect encore for Nicks and allowed Stewart to show off his trademark suavity with the ladies.

But the real splendour came when Rod introduced to the stage ‘me old mucker’ Ronnie Wood amid jokes about the pair’s advancing years; ‘Bruce Forsythe is up next!’ Rod teased.

Ronnie thrilled fans with his collaboration on Maggie May and Faces stonker Stay With Me. The meeting of these titans of Rock was truly a momentous occasion. Older they may be, but Wood and Stewart still look and sound amazing, and bring a whole new meaning to growing old disgracefully.

Hot Legs and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? seemed the natural conclusion to this phenomenal set, we would have been happy with that. But Rod, pulling out all the stops, sent us off into the night with a dulcet rendition of Sailing.

Elated and star-struck, I left Hyde Park on Sunday thanking god that I hadn’t got tickets for Glastonbury.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Feis Festival 2011: Dylan and Van Morrison Rock Out Finsbury Park

With music royalty Bob Dylan and Van Morrison topping the bill at the London Feis, it was naturally with great excitement that I offered to take one for the team and go along as a representative of UK Festival Guides.

Saturday 18 and Sunday 19th June saw the return to Finsbury Park of the Fleadh Festival after a seven year break and with a new name: the Feis.

Checking the weather forecast on Saturday revealed that us Feis-goers could expect ‘light rain showers.’ Oh BBC Weather, how optimistic you were. Waterproofs packed (just say No to umbrellas at festivals), my partner in crime and I trudged through the horizontal rain towards a mobbed and extremely muddy Finsbury Park.

First port of call was obviously the bar. Cider being the ONLY festival beverage, two pints were duly purchased for the princely sum of £8.40. At that price it should have been served to us by a leprechaun. At the end of a rainbow. With a free bag of gold.

Off we popped to the main stage to see everybody’s favourite Springsteen tribute band, The Gaslight Anthem. The New Jersey four-piece rockers warmed the crowd up with anecdotal sing-a-longs like Great Expectations, The ’59 Sound and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Some tunes from their newer record, American Slang, were less known by the audience, but just as good on the ear. A couple of songs in, front man Brian Fallon told the crowd that he hoped the rain would hold off for the rest of their set… two seconds before the rain clouds drenched us all from head to toe.

Shane MacGowan attracted a huge following at the tent, many people eschewing The Cranberries on the open-air main stage for the relative warm and dry of a covered arena. The tenuous-toothed Pogues rascal sang an uncharacteristically lucid Dirty Old Town and delighted the audience with his rendition of the Neil Diamond classic Cracklin’ Rosie. The only disappointment for MacGowan fans, as overheard at the tent being; ‘I don’t think he’s drunk enough.’

The hiatus between Shane and headliner Bob Dylan allowed for a trip or two to the cider bar, a long queue for the loos and anticipation to mount among the mostly inebriated revellers. I had never experienced Dylan Live, and as he’s now in his 70th year, I imagine this will be my one and only chance.

Heading back to the main stage, it seems that the whole of London is assembled to witness possibly his last ever UK performance. I wonder if there’s some sort of secret affiliation between Dylan and The Tallest People In The World. As he finally takes the stage amid rapturous applause, all I can make out is his beacon-like white hat. Why no big screens at the sides of the stage, Feis organisers?

Bob certainly seemed to enter into the Irish spirit of things, energetically switching between keys, harmonica and guitar during his 90- minute set.

On paper the set list was every Dylan fan’s dream. The opening ballad It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue was followed up with iconic tunes galore. Songs like Tangled Up In Blue, Simple Twist of Fate and appropriately, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, were not immediately recognisable from their opening verses. This was mainly because Dylan sang a different version of everything, elongating some choruses and rattling through others at break-neck speed. The whole set was delivered in the vocal style of a Sesame Street character doing Dylan. In short, he seemed to be parodying a caricature of himself.

Like A Rolling Stone got the crowd chanting along, it was just that we were all singing the Bob Dylan original, while the man himself was sticking to the cartoon version. All Along The Watchtower and the finale Blowin’ In The Wind went down a storm once we’d worked out which songs they were and gave up trying to sing along.

As day one of Feis came to a close, I felt mixed emotions about the headline act. On one hand I felt privileged to have seen Dylan, one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known, in concert. On the other hand, his performance was not the work of an icon I know and love.

It was with some relief, after Saturday’s precipitation-fest that we woke on Sunday morning to blue-ish skies.

The Feis website led us to believe that Thin Lizzy would be playing the main stage before Van Morrison. This turned out not to be the case, Van proving to be both the headliner and the penultimate act. Contrary sod.

With only a few minutes to spare before Van-o’-clock, we rushed to the bar and hot-footed it over to the main stage. The festival seemed a lot less crowded on Sunday. Whether people were put off by Saturday’s constant rain, or were only interested in Dylan, I can’t be sure.

One thing is for sure, those who didn’t go to Feis on Sunday missed out on a spectacular event.

The sun shone as Van Morrison took to the stage with his brass band and placed himself behind a massive golden microphone. Baby Please Don’t Go was an invigorating opener, getting everybody singing and jigging along. Following up with rock essentials Here Comes The Night, Brown Eyed Girl, Real Real Gone and Moondance, Van flaunted a voice which is as rich, colourful and pitch-perfect as ever, if not more so.

Wedding staple Have I Told You Lately? brought a tear to many a girl’s eye, while my own reverie was broken during Wavelength when I had to shout at a drunken wanker for nearly pushing me over and, more seriously, spilling a bit of my pint. Morrison’s performance of In The Garden was another highlight. The beauty of the musical arrangement had an almost hypnotic effect on the previously raucous audience. Gloria was the perfect finale to a perfect set. Van Morrison, perhaps modestly, exited the stage before the end of the song, leaving his musicians to take the applause for his stellar performance.

Just when you think things can’t get any more exciting, there’s still Thin Lizzy to come! The band performed their hits Jailbreak, Whiskey In The Jar and The Boys Are Back In Town with more energy than could rightly be expected of them, last thing on a Sunday and to a tired (not to say booze-worn), rapidly dwindling crowd.

That was the London Feis 2011. Wonderful, if a little bit soggy.